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Why Berta From John Henry Looks So Familiar

Streaming audiences in the mood for a heaping helping of bloody revenge could do worse then John Henry, which has hit Netflix after receiving a limited theatrical release earlier this year. The flick focuses on the title character (portrayed by Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Terry Crews), an ex-gang member who is sucked back into his former life of violence after he meets two immigrant children who are in the crosshairs of his former gang's leader.

The ultra-violent, action-packed flick is the debut feature from writer-director Will Forbes, who secured the services of Crews and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges (a mainstay of the Fast and Furious movies) to lead his cast. But among the supporting players is one face who you might have found to be a bit familiar: that of Berta, one of the kids who comes under Henry's protection. The actress who plays her is named Jamila Velazquez, and while she hasn't been in the business for very long, she's already amassing a respectable body of film and television credits. Here's why Berta from John Henry looks so familiar.

Jamila Velazquez got her start with a lead role in a feature film

Jamila Velazquez got her start as an actress at a pretty young age, and as an alumnus of the prestigious Professional Performing Arts High School in Manhattan (via Vibe), she didn't break into the business by scoring commercials and bit parts. Her very first gig, at the age of only 15, was as the title character in the indie drama Come Home, Raquel, whose world is thrown into disarray when her immigrant parents are deported. The flick did not receive a wide release, but it did serve as a kind of calling card for Velazquez, who began picking up supporting roles on the small screen almost immediately after starring in it.

Until landing her role in John Henry, Velazquez appeared in only one other feature: 2018's How the Light Gets In, another indie flick that flew under the radar of nearly everyone. But the actress' appearances on the small screen were another story, as she quickly began popping up in the kinds of shows that draw millions of eyeballs every week.

Jamila Velazquez has had a number of guest roles on the small screen

Velazquez's television career began with a guest spot on a 2012 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, in which she played a young prostitute named Pilar Morenas. Her performance was a hit with viewers and with the series' casting directors, who brought her back for two more appearances on the series, both in 2015.

Velazquez would go on to a number of guest spots on extremely popular shows: she appeared in a flashback as Sirena, the young friend of Maria Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel), in a season 4 episode of Orange is the New Black in 2016; as Emily Vega in an intense season 4 episode of Chicago P.D. in 2017; as a homeless woman on a season 6 episode of Blacklist in 2019; and most recently, as Camila Garcia on Blue Bloods. Velazquez isn't just a perpetual guest star, though. She's also been featured in major recurring roles on not one, but two popular series.

Jamila Velazquez appeared on a popular ABC Family series

The first of these roles came in 2013, when Velazquez was cast in the short-lived but intriguing ABC Family mystery series Twisted. The series focused on Danny, a teenager who had been sent away at 11 years old after being charged with the murder of his aunt. Returning to his home town five years later under the watchful eye of his mother Karen (Denise Richards), Danny attempts to acclimate himself to high school life — an endeavor made all the more difficult when one of his classmates is murdered, and he falls under suspicion. Velazquez starred as Sarita, a popular girl and the best friend of Lacey (Kylie Bunbury),whose need to maintain her social status conflicts with her feelings for Danny. 

The series quickly developed a small but rabid following, which wasn't enough to save it. ABC Family pulled the plug on Twisted after one season and only 19 episodes due to low ratings. Fortunately for Velazquez, it wouldn't take long for her to land another featured role on the small screen — this time, on a series with slightly longer legs.

Jamila Velazquez had a major recurring role on Empire

After the cancellation of Twisted, Velazquez landed on the hit Fox series Empire, the musical drama centered on the conflicts and infighting among the power players of the fictional record label Empire Entertainment. Velazquez was cast in the show's second season as Laura Calleros, the lead singer of girl group Mirage a Trois — a role for which the actress was perfectly suited, given that she also happens to be a talented vocalist. Her character developed into a love interest for Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), the rising hip-hop artist with a ruthless streak and a stable of girlfriends.

Velazquez's role on Empire only lasted for one season, but we have the distinct feeling that we'll be hearing a lot more from the young actress in the very near future. In addition to her appearance in John Henry, she'll be popping up in another feature that's set for release later this year: West Side Story, a remake of the iconic musical, which is currently in post-production and was directed by some dude named Steven Spielberg. That's not a bad credit for an up-and-coming actress who, despite a pretty killer resume, looks for all the world to just be getting started.